Panic at Ofcom as Desmond weighs up bid for Channel 5

This is mere supposition of course, we haven’t actually observed crates of smelling salts being carried into the London riverside HQ of UK broadcast regulator Ofcom.

But Daily Express and Daily Star owner Richard Desmond, former owner of the Northern and Shell porn magazine company and now the proud proprietor of digital channels Red Hot and Television X, is weighing up a bid for Channel 5, the minnow in the UK terrestrial television market currently owned by RTL.

When Channel 5 (which now likes to be known as Five) launched its boss Dawn Airey described its content as football, films and fucking (possibly not in that order).

The fear at Ofcom and elsewhere in the broadcasting hierarchy is that Desmond might revert to type but drop the films and football.

There are other contenders too of course. Heavily-indebted indie producer Endemol is believed to fancy an outlet for reality show Big Brother which is being dropped by Channel 4 when the current series finishes.

This column’s confident tip that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation would bid looks to be dead in the water as Rupert is currently trying to buy the whole of BSkyB (he currently owns 39 per cent).

A parallel bid for C5 would only support opponents who claim that he is trying to gain a stranglehold on UK media.

But the strategies of Desmond and Murdoch, without doubt the canniest media operators in the UK, are almost identical.

Gain control of a broadcaster which can support your print and online initiatives and you would have a clear instance of media convergence that actually made money. Murdoch would try to sell subscription packages including Sky and the new paid-for Times and Sunday Times sites. Desmond would do the same with his newspapers and, crucially, his successful celeb magazine OK!

As for Ofcom, other regulators including the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission and, ultimately, the new Tory-Liberal coalition government, a successful Desmond bid for C5 would be a contender for worst nightmare.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.